'Senseless' peer pressure driving kids to drink

While fewer young people are drinking alcohol, those that do are still drinking far too much, health campaigners say.

"Young people drink to get drunk - that's still one of the main reasons that young people drink," Alcohol Healthwatch director Nicki Jackson told The AM Show on Friday.

On Thursday the coroner said "senseless" peer pressure to drink heavily was behind the death of a teenager in 2016. Mitchell David Heward, 17, died after drinking with friends at Lake Kaniere on the West Coast.

Two young men aged 18 and 21 were charged with supplying alcohol to a minor. One pleaded guilty and was discharged without conviction, while the other was found not guilty.

"Mitchell's death was the tragic consequence of excessive alcohol consumption by a young person, in a group in which pressure to drink was applied," said coroner Anna Tutton. "His death was senseless, and a sad illustration of the prevalent drinking culture."

Mitchell's parents didn't blame the men who gave them the booze - saying it was the teenage boys he was with that "poured it into him".

"The supply of the alcohol was not the problem - it was what they did with it," father Ron Heward told NZME.

The police didn't prosecute because Mitchell's death was classed as an accident.

"There were so many things that made up this so called accident, that I don't believe that it was an accident," said Mr Heward.

Dr Jackson says many Kiwis are lucky to make it to adulthood.

"We've all grown up in very much a heavy drinking culture. It's the way that we drink."

Drinking among Kiwi youth is actually falling. Ministry of Health figures released last year showed 56 percent of underage teenagers had at least one drink in the previous 12 months, down from 75 percent in 2006/7.

"It happened internationally - it wasn't just New Zealand, it happened across the board," says Dr Jackson.

But those who drink are still doing so at dangerous levels.

"Because there are fewer people drinking, there are fewer hazardous drinkers that are adolescents. But you have to remember that the New Zealand guidelines suggest no alcohol's best for young people.

"We have 56 percent of our 15 to 17-year-olds drinking. I would still say that's too many... we want to protect those brains as long as possible."